Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Book Review: The Little Bookshop on the Seine, by Rebecca Raisin

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“Luiz,” I said. “No work today?” It was late, he hadn’t arrived early this morning, which was unusual for him. Luiz brushed a hand through his unruly waves. He looked every ounce the writer – messy too-long hair, a half-dazed expression as though he was only partly here, the rest of him lost in his mind with the characters he’d left back on his laptop.

Did those fictional people miss him? When his front door clicked closed, did they hold hands and jump from the screen? Perching on the keyboard, reading about their own lives, through Luiz’s words? Crazy, kooky Sarah, my friends teased whenever one of these notions spilled from my mouth before I caught myself. But to me, books were alive, the words throbbed and pulsed, as important as a heartbeat, and I bet his books were just as real when they were half-written too.

I love learning about new places through books. This little vacation in Paris was the perfect escape in the middle of my holiday break.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: The Little Bookshop on the Seine, by Rebecca Raisin
When bookshop owner Sarah Smith is offered the opportunity for a job exchange with her Parisian friend Sophie, saying yes is a no-brainer—after all, what kind of romantic would turn down six months in Paris? Sarah is sure she’s in for the experience of a lifetime—days spent surrounded by literature in a gorgeous bookshop, and the chance to watch the snow fall on the Eiffel Tower. Plus, now she can meet up with her journalist boyfriend, Ridge, when his job takes him around the globe.

But her expectations cool faster than her cafĂ© au lait soon after she lands in the City of Light—she’s a fish out of water in Paris. The customers are rude, her new coworkers suspicious and her relationship with Ridge has been reduced to a long-distance game of phone tag, leaving Sarah to wonder if he’ll ever put her first over his busy career. As Christmas approaches, Sarah is determined to get the shop—and her life—back in order…and make her dreams of a Parisian happily-ever-after come true.

Sarah’s afraid her life is too boring, so when her friend Sophie suggests they swap bookstores, she jumps at the chance for some excitement, and possibly the first real risk she’s taken. She’s nervous about leaving her shop, but figures it will just be like running her shop in a more romantic setting.

Shortly after arriving in Paris, she realizes she couldn’t have been more wrong. Sophie’s shop is so busy. There are employees to manage, and spreadsheets and reports to track. She spends some time worried that she’s in over her head, until friendships finally develop with some of the people in her new life. Sarah’s trip has a chance of being everything she dreamed of, as she learns more about herself, life, and her relationships.

Overall I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars. I liked how Sarah’s sharing of her ideas of the best traditional Christmas are what really help her engage with the other people in and around the bookstore. I was less than thrilled with her romantic relationship with Ridge. I’m undecided if I’d like to find out what happens next with them or not.

{click here to pre-order - The Little Bookshop on the Seine is out on January 7, 2020}

Becki Bayley can be found at SweetlyBSquared.com.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Book Review: The Darwin Affair, by Tim Mason

Guest review by: Andrea Hodge

Decimus nodded and was carefully lowering the razor-sharp blade into a leather sheath in his trousers pocket when he noticed the young man looking past him. Decimus glanced over his shoulder and saw on the little table near the door a bloodstained hand towel and the ear he'd been working on. 

"Careless of me."

Historical fiction, murder, mystery ... Tim Mason's first adult novel is an entertaining, sometimes gruesome, page-turner.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: The Darwin Affair, by Tim Mason
London, June 1860: When an assassination attempt is made on Queen Victoria, and a petty thief is gruesomely murdered moments later—and only a block away—Chief Detective Inspector Charles Field quickly surmises that these crimes are connected to an even more sinister plot. Was Victoria really the assassin’s target? Are those closest to the Crown hiding something? And who is the shadowy figure witnesses describe as having lifeless, coal-black eyes?

Soon, Field’s investigation exposes a shocking conspiracy in which the publication of Charles Darwin’s controversial On the Origin of Species sets off a string of murders, arson, kidnapping, and the pursuit of a madman named the Chorister. As the investigation takes Field from the dangerous alleyways of London to the hallowed halls of Oxford, the list of possible conspirators grows, and the body count escalates. And as he edges closer to the Chorister, he uncovers dark secrets that were meant to remain forever hidden.

This story runs at a pretty quick clip, with lots of action (and the first in the death count) starting immediately. We get thrill and suspense, we get an absolutely insane and terrifying bad guy, and we get a well-researched historical base for it all to come together on. I definitely recommend it, especially if you love historical fiction, murder mysteries, or both.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

{click here to purchase}

Andrea Hodge is thoroughly ecstatic that another holiday season is over. She hopes to read more and eat less in the coming year.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Book Review - Journey to Jo'burg: A South African Story, by Beverley Naidoo

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

As they turned toward the road, there was a bus with the word “PARKTOWN” in big letters on the front. It was slowing down a little way up the road and the doors were opening. Through the front windscreen they could see the driver was black.

“Come on, Tiro!” called Naledi, pulling him by the arm. They were just about to jump aboard, when someone shouted at them in English. “What’s wrong with you? Are you stupid?”

Startled, they looked up at the angry face of the bus driver and then at the bus again. White faces stared at them from inside as the bus moved off.

Naledi and Tiro stood on the side of the road, shaken, holding hands tightly, when a voice behind them said, “Don’t let it bother you. That’s what they’re like. You’d better come out of the road.”

A young woman put out her hand to bring them onto the pavement.

“You must be strangers here if you don’t know about the buses. This stop has a white sign, but we have to wait by the black one over there.”

Targeted to kids aged 9-12 years, this book tells the story of Naledi and Tiro and their journey to get help for their little sister Dineo.

Official synopsis:
Book Review - Journey to Jo'burg: A South African Story, by Beverley Naidoo
Separated from their mother by the harsh social and economic conditions prevalent among blacks in South Africa, thirteen-year-old Naledi and her younger brother make a journey over 300 kilometers to find her in Johannesburg.

Mma lives and works in Johannesburg, far from the village Naledi and Tiro call home. When their baby sister suddenly becomes very sick, Naledi and Tiro know, deep down, that only one person can save her.

Bravely, alone, they set off on a journey to find Mma and bring her back. It isn't until they reach the city that they come to understand the dangers of their country, and the painful struggle for freedom and dignity that is taking place all around them.

While I read my fair share of YA, this is for a bit younger crowd. The language is more simple, and the plot is not intricate. The story is really just to show the reality of children dealing with apartheid and the great disparity between their lives and those of the wealthy whites in Johannesburg and the experiences during their journey.

I’d give this book 2.5 out of 5 stars. While written well, I feel the simple language kind of detracted from the seriousness and reality of the issue. But I’m not sure how that could be worked around. It would be hard for the privileged children I know to absorb the reality in this book.

{click here to purchase}

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Book Review: Husband Material, by Emily Belden

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

This BOA place is nice, albeit kind of dark and pretty crowded at 6:00 p.m. for a city full of people who don’t like to dine until after 9:00 p.m. But that’s okay because I believe those things – dark and crowded – are helping to take the attention off the fact that I’ve sausaged myself into cigarette pants that suddenly feel two sizes too small.

And that I have Decker’s urn in my purse.

I’ll admit that it feels inappropriate to have brought Decker along to something like this, but what other choice did I have, given Debbie’s stop-at-nothing antics? I try not to think too much about the fact that Decker in my bag makes us a party of seven and glance down at my watch. This dinner will be over relatively soon, and once it is, I’ll head straight back to my place, where I will put Decker back on my nightstand or the kitchen counter.

What I thought would be a pop-fiction with a 20-something trying to get married ended up being way more involved with feelings, and histories, and relationships than I originally expected.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Husband Material, by Emily Belden
Twenty-nine-year-old Charlotte Rosen has a secret: she’s a widow. Ever since the fateful day that leveled her world, Charlotte has worked hard to move forward. Great job at a hot social media analytics company? Check. Roommate with no knowledge of her past? Check. Adorable dog? Check. All the while, she’s faithfully data-crunched her way through life, calculating the probability of risk—so she can avoid it.

Yet Charlotte’s algorithms could never have predicted that her late husband’s ashes would land squarely on her doorstep five years later. Stunned but determined, Charlotte sets out to find meaning in this sudden twist of fate, even if that includes facing her perfectly coiffed, and perfectly difficult, ex-mother-in-law—and her husband’s best friend, who seems to become a fixture at her side whether she likes it or not.

But when her quest reveals a shocking secret, Charlotte is forced to answer questions she never knew to ask and to consider the possibility of forgiveness. And when a chance at a new life arises, she’ll have to decide once and for all whether to follow the numbers or trust her heart.

This was definitely fun to read for a few days. I found Charlotte to be likable, but also a bit self-centered. Well, the book is about her, so I suppose that makes sense. But the plot seemed very smoothly laid out, and then resolved. Not being a widow, I suppose I’m in no place to comment on how she dealt with things, but it seemed quite neatly tied up to me.

There were a few minutes near the end when I thought maybe the happily-ever-after wasn’t going to be quite what I thought it would be, but that ended up being the whole point – for Charlotte to quit planning and being so confident in what to expect next.

I did love Charlotte’s job as a number-cruncher for a company who measures social media interaction. As a blogger and influencer myself from time to time, I felt I could relate a bit to that part of her life. It was also a unique job that I haven’t seen a character do before.

Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars. The epilogue wrapped it up nicely in the end. I do love being able to finish a book and not wonder about what might have happened to my new ‘friends’ in the book.

{click here to pre-order - Husband Material will be in stores and online on December 30, 2019}

Becki Bayley loves reading, her kids, sleeping, and keeping cozy. The order of those loves changes from time to time (okay, the kids do always come first ;) ). She also blogs at SweetlyBSquared.com.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Book Review: The Kill Club, by Wendy Heard

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“Jasmine, I represent an organization to which you have been referred.” The voice is neither female nor male but somewhere in-between, and I realize its owner is using a voice disguiser, the kind you hear on crime shows. The voice resumes. “You’ve been referred in response to the situation with your….mother? Your foster mother?”

“Are you from DCFS?”

“Not exactly. Are you alone? Are you at home?”

“Why do you keep asking me that?”

“We deal with sensitive, personal matters. It’s important that we have privacy to discuss this.”

I pull the phone away from my ear and examine it, like this will help me understand what the fuck is happening. I return it to my ear and say, “This is creepy. You have two minutes to explain what you’re talking about or I hang up.”

When I first picked up this book, I wasn’t sure where the story was going. Less than an hour in, though, I knew I’d have to skip a few regularly scheduled chores to find out how it would all end!

Official synopsis:
Book Review: The Kill Club, by Wendy Heard
Jazz will stop at nothing to save her brother.

Their foster mother, Carol, has always been fanatical, but with Jazz grown up and out of the house, Carol takes a dangerous turn that threatens thirteen-year-old Joaquin’s life. Over and over, child services fails to intervene, and Joaquin is running out of time.

Then Jazz gets a blocked call from someone offering a solution. There are others like her—people the law has failed. They’ve formed an underground network of “helpers,” each agreeing to eliminate the abuser of another. They’re taking back their power and leaving a trail of bodies throughout Los Angeles—dubbed the Blackbird Killings. If Jazz joins them, they’ll take care of Carol for good.

All she has to do is kill a stranger.

Wow! I don’t start a lot of my reviews with this, but WOW! The Kill Club is the second novel by Wendy Heard, and I’m now definitely planning to check out her first (Hunting Annabelle, published in 2018).

I can certainly see why the synopsis is so short, as it’s hard to summarize this intriguing murder/mystery plot without giving too much away. It’s all about righting wrongs, for some of the underprivileged and underrepresented in society, and the author says at the ends that the stories are all based in truth. Besides Joaquin and Jazz’s story of abuse at the hands of their foster/adoptive mother, there are abused spouses, and a custody battle skewed by the legal influence of one parent. The secret network can help even the score, and get what most would think is the fair result in the end. Tempting, eh? If only things always went according to plan…

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys psychological thrillers. Based on the ending, I really hope the author follows up with another book with Jazz and Joaquin. I need to know what happens next! I’d give this 4.5 out of 5 stars. It was a little confusing in the beginning, as the story went from normal life for Jazz, into a chapter with a murder with the killer and victim completely unknown to the reader. A little further on it all fell into place, and then it was just ignoring the rest of my life and turning the pages as fast as I could.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a wife, mom and blogger at SweetlyBSquared.com.

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